Nuclear Power 2.0

from the can-you-say-nu-cle-ar? dept

For a long time I held a fairly unpopular view: I thought that the United States had made a big mistake by tabling its nuclear power industry in the 1970s. Surely, I thought, researchers and operators would have found ways to make nuclear plants clean and safe by now, had the industry continued its growth. Building new nuclear power plants was never made illegal, but it became unpalatable. A new nuclear plant has not been developed in the U.S. in more than 30 years. While interest in building additional nuclear power capacity has recently reemerged, I have found myself with a complete change of opinion: not only has the 30-year hiatus not dampened hopes that nuclear power might yield a safe and secure energy source, but the effective prohibition has actually provided incentives for innovation in the industry. A number of other nations have continued their nuclear power programs and, while there hasn't been a major nuclear accident in more than 20 years, nuclear plants built in recent years share the same basic design as the last plants built in the U.S. Now, to win over nuclear skeptics, a number of companies from upstarts to multi-nationals are developing the next generation of nuclear power technology. These new technologies are intended to address concerns over plant safety, nuclear waste, and security through innovative new designs and materials. Thus, it appears the hiatus actually drove more innovation in the space as innovators had to design around the worries from people. These firms are hoping not only to compete not against wind, solar, geothermal, etc. for a share of alternative energy investment capital, but also to go head to head once again against coal and natural gas power plants as a primary source of new energy. With the opposition to nuclear power forcing companies to explore innovative new designs and materials, they stand a good chance against a legacy energy industry that has had very little incentive to innovate over the past three decades.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 1:39pm

    The logic here s hard to find : you say U.S. has not built any nuclear power plants for about 30 yesrs and that other nations have built some "...nuclear plants built in recent years share the same basic design as the last plants built in the U.S". Which might prompt some to conclude that there hasn't been any innovation for 30 years.

     

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    boomhauer (profile), Dec 20th, 2007 @ 1:43pm

    read it

    here yah go
    http://www.victoriaadvocate.com/910

    likely to be the first modern one built. just south of my hometown.

     

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  3.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 1:43pm

    Re:

    The basic concept is the same as 30 years ago. You use Uranium to run turbines. The safety features have gotten much better since we stopped. So now all ours are running on 30 year old safety equipment. Nice ban.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 1:51pm

    The plants themselves are safe. The only problem is what to do with that crap once its been used?

    No innovation in solving that problem, and that is the biggest problem. The cost of storage and disposal is not ever included in the cost benefit issue.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 1:56pm

    Nuclear waste disposal is still the main sticking point. The next one is where will you build them? The best place is one that is a good distance from my house - and that's relative to everyone!

    I don't what they can do about the waste but as far a the location I think they should put them on military bases whenever possible. Gives you built in security and the feds can tell the local gov't and State gov't to stick it where the sun shines least. Should save a lot of lawsuits.

     

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  6.  
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    Betaflame, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 2:04pm

    Re:

    Actually there hasn't been much change in the last 30 years. Equipment used in new Nuclear plants is virtually the same equipment used 30 years ago. The process of getting equipment validated as safe enough to use in a nuclear plant is so long and so much of a pain most companies designing nuke plants just use the same stuff designed 30 years ago... Yeah, its that bad.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous of Course, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 2:08pm

    CANDU

    Some exceptionally safe reactors have been
    developed over the past thirty years.

    Unfortunetly not in the US. In Canada they
    have the CANDU, which I like very much. It's
    melt down proof and the waste isn't as nasty
    to deal with, an added benefit.

    I'd rather live next to a nuclear plant than
    a coal-fired plant. Which also produces some
    rather hot radioactive waste from the collection
    of trace elements in the coal at the burner pit.

    Renewable energy resources are great too. But
    they will never fill the need alone, even with
    very agressive conservation unless we make changes
    in our life styles that frankly, I'm not willing
    to make. (Hospitals? I'm sorry they're just
    sucking up too much energy... now die quietly.)

    The only impediment to the wide spread use of
    safe nuclear power- is will power.

     

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  8.  
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    Jason (profile), Dec 20th, 2007 @ 2:10pm

    Pebble Bed reactors

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor

    I like what I've seen about these. I hope SE does get one up and running, so we can actually check to see how it works in Real Life.

     

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  9.  
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    M., Dec 20th, 2007 @ 2:12pm

    Nuclear Power

    I think people should embrace the technology even more when they bitch about war in the middle east. It seems like they want it both ways.

     

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  10.  
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    Shun, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 2:40pm

    Mirroring Slashdot again?

    I am surprised that both you and Slashdot came out with the same idea. Their post references this article.

    This tech would be great at one thing: making sure power generation stays local. Instead of purchasing power from the Enrons of the world, we should be doing it locally. You'd have to overcome resistance from the people who think nuclear power is the devil, regardless. After dealing with Greenpeace, the local electricity broker would be a piece of cake.

    Seriously, I don't see this tech taking off quickly, except in Japan and France. They already have pretty decent nuclear power infrastructures, and their populations aren't totally paranoid about the possibility of a meltdown. I know, these new reactors aren't supposed to do that. OK, but we have enough fear in the U.S. that people here think nuclear power == atomic bomb (gee, I wonder what would give them that idea?).

    This tech will only serve to help the EU and Japan reduce their dependence on oil, and consequently, the U.S. If the U.S. doesn't follow suit, we'll need to develop either a million windmills and solar power systems, or stay in the Middle East until all of the oil is gone.

    The latter option is not sustainable.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 2:44pm

    I'd like to see more research into FUSION -- as long as I've been following fusion research as reported in the media.. they always say we're 30-50 years away -- that's what fusion research has been saying for 15 years. Shouldn't we be only 15-35 years away by now??? sounds like we've made about as much head way in Fusion as we have Fision

     

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    Anonymous Cow Award, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 2:54pm

    There is enough solar and wind power for every need on earth. Moreover solar panels don't blow up and kill thousands of people. And if someone disposes the used fuel of a wind mill at your backyard (one reason for someone doing that is making more profit) you won't die of cancer.

     

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    Jeff, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 3:14pm

    We can't get any headway as long as we have the "not in my backyard" folks all up in arms. I live in Vegas, they're trying to get a nuclear waste repository biult here in Yucca Mountain. The government has been pushing it for years and everyone knows it'll be the lobbyists and contractors who will get rich while downplaying the risks. The sticking points are security of the waste and stability of the mountain. I'd trust the geological surveys and engineering reports for the projected safety of the site more if I didn't know how political it is. But the way I see it, Vegas has been radiated into oblivion by tests since the 40's. We need to develope this technology as well as wind and solar, if we haven't learned by now there should never be only one energy source for the consumer.

     

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    methylamine, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 3:41pm

    Amen--Time for New Nukes

    Just can't beat them from an economic AND ecological perspective. Sure, wind and solar are the best ecologically--but they're more expensive.

    Our current circle-the-airport strategy for dealing with waste, which is to store it in situ, could be extended possibly until we get fusion. The waste is admittedly the Big Bad Problem...but arguably much less than pouring CO2 and heavy metals into the atmosphere from Nasty Old Man Coal.

    I love the recent adds for coal...kind of remind me of the old cigarette ads with a doctor endorsing a particular brand as "less harsh on the throat". "Hey kids! Coal is OK, lookey here at these pretty people frolicking in a clean pasture under blue skies! It's less harsh on the environment!"

    CO2 sequestration...meh, still a risk and probably puts it on a par cost-wise with nuclear.

    Now FUSION--THERE'S what we need. For god's sake, stop funding idiotic "entitlements" and put some money where it will really make a difference--RESEARCH.

    But I don't expect a bunch of lawyers on capital hill to think that deeply. Then again, I don't remember voting to "entitle" anyone to my money, either.

     

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  15.  
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    methylamine, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 3:48pm

    Re: waste-disposal

    The current strategy of storing waste in-situ indefinitely is actually working pretty well. Drown the stuff in steel containers under deep pools, and let it cool off.

    Even if fusion is 50 years away, which my nuclear engineer father-in-law believes it to be, we should have space.

    This avoids the transportation risk, massive single-point-of-failure storage risk, etc.

    The waste is not as ghastly as we've been taught. It's not gaseous, it's embedded in stainless steel containers tough enough to take an 80MPH hit by a semi truck, and most of it is stored as a vitreous form which itself is resistant to spalling and corrosion.

     

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  16.  
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    tychism, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 4:00pm

    I can definitely see the fear factor and negative media playing a roll in America's aversion to nuclear power. However, why is launching nuclear waste into space not a viable option or disposal??

     

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  17.  
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    careysub, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 4:11pm

    Conventional Wisdom

    A lot of conventional wisdom on this thread - that misses most of the facts about nuclear power.

    The chief reason that nuclear power has not been pursued for the last 30 years in the U.S. is the high capital cost of nuclear power plants. They are profitable over the long term, but the payback time is many years longer than other types of power plants. Power company executives plan by the financials - with a given investment outlay they will opt for the quickest payback, especially given uncertainties in projecting future electricity demand. This means coal, or (until recently) gas if they can't get coal plants approved. To really see new nuclear power plants become a factor something has to make coal more expensive (like carbon taxes or caps), or nuclear power plants cheaper (innovation), or guarantee a profit (e.g. legislated guaranteed power buy rates).

    Actually one factor that is making nuclear power more attractive now (in addition to its record of continuously improving profits, see below), is the fact that utilities are held responsible for taking into account foreseeable changes in the marketplace. Obviously bad investment decisions leave them with stranded costs that regulators will not let them recoup. The likelihood of carbon taxes in some form in the near future make nuclear power plants more attractive now, even though those taxes have yet to be enacted.

    Nuclear power plants are not operating with 30 year old equipment, safety or otherwise. The systems of these plants have been frequently improved over the years, given them much higher availability, increased power levels, lower operating costs, better safety, and greater profits. For this reason 'old' nuclear power plants have become increasingly valuable over the last 20 years.

    The question of 'solving' the nuclear waste problem is a political problem, not a technical one, and there will always be a vocal faction that does not agree that it has been solved (until magic pixie dust is discovered that can simply make it disappear). The default interim approach for dealing with nuclear waste which is actually being followed today - cooling pond storage for several years, followed by transfer to dry casks, all kept on the grounds of the power plant - actually addresses this issue quite effectively. The dry casks can be left in place for centuries (until the vast majority of the radioactivity has decayed) with only modest annual monitoring and security costs paid for by a annuity bought by the power company. Or, they could be relocated to a central above ground location - at least one Indian tribe have already offered their reservation as a storage site and may have the legal power to resist state attempts to block it. This solution is unpopular with locals, and the proposed central site states, but it is technically and economically practical.

     

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  18.  
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    Erik Jan, Dec 20th, 2007 @ 8:18pm

    A lot of what is said here is the same old discussion that has been going on for at least four decades bow. There is, however, a new aspect that is hardly ever discussed and that is the issue of the different business models that are associated with gas, coal and nuclear vs. most alternative energy sources. The difference is in the fact that gas, coal and nuclear are based on a centralized, monopolistic model of energy production while most alternative energy sources fit best into a distributed, local model. For the energy corporations the distributed model is not very attractive. What would be their place in such a model? There is none, or maybe only the role of a kind of energy broker. On the other hand the nuclear option is very attractive because it perpetuates the current model, and keeps the economical and political structures in place. The pushing of the nuclear option by the energy industry is therefore not surprising. A lot of the playing down by the industry of alternative energy options is also heavily influenced by the mindset of the traditional centralized energy production model. Many arguments along the line of "Alternative energy will never be able to supply all the energy we need" are actually based on the premise that alternative energy sources will be employed within a traditional centralized model that does not fit the nature of these sources.

    IMHO an open discussion about the issues associated with traditional energy production models that are deeply embedded in the economical-, political- and power structure of most countries is the only way to really look at all alternatives and make choices that are in the best interest of all parties and not only the energy giants.

     

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  19.  
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    subservent, Dec 21st, 2007 @ 4:21am

    Yes, Sir, cheaper, always right!

    Well, Mr. Scientist said, I should install the soandso operating system on my pc, because it's cheaper. Oh yes, 90 percent of the population got it installed, because it's cheaper than the rest*. Right, I got the software to post this. He said, usage of fossile fuel and gas will remain for the next 300 years. Oh yes, we are using coal since more than 500 centuries. Right, so it seems there's enough energy to keep this posted for centuries. He said, offshore nuclear power will be the best in the future, because the atom-powered submarine has never been harmful to the environment in any case. Right, alternative power is gone with the wind and there's heavy nuclear waste to make this posting sinking hundreds of meters deep. So as long as Mr. Scientist is being paid in connection with working contracts at the "leading" Computer, Energy and Power corporations, he is always right. When he quits his job, because nuclear rays from the oceans suck too much, this posting will be already an invisible matter of circumstances at the deepest bottom of the educational pyramid system. As ever, anyone will learn, Mr. Scientist is always right. And not anyone but a scientist!

    (*) 10 percent competition, but still bigger than the remaining 90. Right! Always right!

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 22nd, 2007 @ 8:46pm

    It's amazing how uninformed these pro nuclear people are. They think that there is not enough wind. That there is not enough solar. That nuclear power is safe and clean.

    They really should do some research instead of just taking a stand. Then they would know there is enough wind and solar to do away with fossil and nuclear. Without impacting our lives with energy saving unpleasantness. However they take their "information" from the energy monopolies of the world who will always push energy solutions they can monopolize.

    My advice? Don't drink the punch. Do your own research.

     

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  21.  
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    Overcast, Jan 9th, 2008 @ 9:07am

    I think people should embrace the technology even more when they bitch about war in the middle east. It seems like they want it both ways.

    Good point. In History - Nuclear Reactors have killed FAR less people than bickering over Oil in the Mid-East - there's simply no comparison at all.

    I think I'd rather have a Nuclear Reactor in my backyard than to deal with the Mid-East for another year.

     

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  22.  
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    edelkind, Mar 11th, 2008 @ 4:10am

    Re:

    No nuclear reactor has ever "blown up and killed thousands of people". The Chernobyl disaster killed about 50 people. There is alot of controversy surrounding the possible "thousands" that "might" die prematurely from their increased radiation exposure due to the accident.
    As to your statement that "there is enough solar and wind powere for every need on Earth", that MAY be true...assuming you can find the empty barren land that you can cover with solar panels. Many people who tout exclusive reliance on solar power believe, erroniously, that the majority of the existing solar radiation is "being wasted". It is NOT! Remember, the solar energy that is falling on these lots of barren land is not being wasted now. It is being used by plants and animals. The solar heat is maintaining the proper local climate, weather patterns etc.. Are you willing to accept responsibility for the drastic changes to the ecosystem if you insist on sucking up so much solar energy from large portions of the Earth's surface?

     

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